A December Vote on a New Constitution?
As promised, even though I am in Buenos Aires working this week, we continue with our coverage from Bolivia, courtesey of other members of the Democracy Center team. Here, from Lily Whitesell and others, is a report on the past week's political battles over President Morales' call for a December vote on MAS' proposed new constitution.
A December Vote on a New Constitution?
It's not often that the National Electoral Court makes headlines multiple times in one week. But the "CNE" has been taking care of business. It's fining television stations for having shown political ads in the 48 hours before the August 10 recall election. It has begun removing from the voter rolls those Bolivians who didn't vote. And most importantly, on Monday, it declared President Morales' decree - the one which called for a December 7th referendum on the new Constitution - null and void.
The Electoral Court's argument was that a referendum would need to be passed into law by Congress - not the president. (Morales' party MAS controls the House of Delegates, but the opposition controls the Senate by a slim majority.) The decision seemed to catch the Morales administration by surprise.
You can imagine how the week went. On Monday and Tuesday, spokespeople from the government lashed out at the Court and assured that the December 7th referendum would still be held. "We lament and condemn the conduct of the Electoral Court, which without legal nor legitimate arguments, through a letter, has decided to void the decree." No mincing words there. The opposition, on the other side, were thrilled about the decision, but quickly got back to their work of blockading highways and roads about the ongoing struggle about how the gas and oil revenues will be used and distributed.
By Thursday, the opposition was intensifying their blockades and threatening to go for the pipelines that pump gas and oil to Argentina and Brazil. The government, on the other hand, had toned down its rhetoric, with Vice President Lineras expressing the desire to work together and dialogue with the "democratic" part of the Bolivian right wing to get the law passed through Congress.
Last year, the Democracy Center wrote a briefing paper about the Constituent Assembly after a trip to Sucre. One of the main conclusions that we drew from that experience was that the conflict around the Constitution stems from one main issue, one point of disagreement between Evo Morales' supporters and opposers. That was: how much of a mandate does Morales have to shake things up in Bolivia?
Winning the election in 2005 by the highest percentage in Bolivian history - how much of a mandate did that give him? Enough of a mandate to "nationalize" gas (renegotiating contracts), it seems, has been pretty much agreed upon by all sides (they're all fighting over the money now, right?). But enough of a mandate to pass a Constitution that emerged as the second demand of the October 2003 protests? That question has been the source of much of the political back-and-forth of the last year or more.
And now, winning the recall referendum with 67% support, how much of a mandate does that give him? Has anything changed significantly in the political stalemate since where the country was on August 9th? There is still the government, there is still the opposition. Neither has the political will to budge from their current positions. In one sense, nothing has changed.
But in another sense, one key thing is different. If the government finds a way to dialogue with some of the more centrist members of the opposition, and to get the law for a December 7 referendum passed... Well, then maybe that recall election was a warm-up for the real vote. The 67% support for Morales could very easily translate into a 50 plus one percent victory for the Constitution next December.
As your casera can tell you, anything in Bolivia should have some yapa. In this case, we have three interviews from regular people about current events in Bolivia, with more coming next week. A number of them were done on referendum day, long before the Constitutional decree, but their basic messages still shed some light on the ups and downs of this week's events.
As a disclaimer, they are disproportionately from the city, and disproportionately middle class, but there are a variety of people (including one quite well-known Bolivian comedian - make sure to check the blog next week) and opinions among them, which I hope readers will find interesting, if not useful. You can see the videos in full on YouTube by following the links.
Grover Ledezma, a "common and ordinary citizen"
The DC: What do you think of the current political situation?
G: Well, to be honest it's a very complicated moment the one Bolivia is currently going through. It turns out that we currently have two Bolivias, an eastern Bolivia and a western Bolivia. Perhaps the ones that have more complications and to a certain extent have to “pay the broken dishes,” in this situation are the ones, like me, living in the valley. It's a situation where everyone picks sides, so Cochabamba currently finds itself divided by 2 different political views.
The DC: What message would you send to the government and also the opposition party?
G: Well, firstly to the government, for it to govern the whole of Bolivia not just the residents of the West, nor the residents of the tropics or the residents of the high lands of La Paz because we are all Bolivians. And for the opposition to act more cautiously before making its decisions. We just hope that we can all sit together to talk so [Bolivia can be] governable. I wish for a democratic government for all Bolivians and for people to respect a government chosen constitutionally, whether that is at a national level or at a departmental level but in reality we all need to be governed and we must comply with a government that has been constitutionally established.
The DC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
G: Well, surely, the eyes of other neighbor countries including the country of the North are upon Bolivia and I can only think to myself and at times think with other Bolivians on how can it be possible in a country with 8 million people and a country so rich for people not to be able to understand each other. As an intellectual of our country used to say, “the cause of our poverty is our wealth.” Well, we have to start by changing and proposing the construction of a strong democracy and a more socially, politically and economically stable country.
Honestly, in Bolivia, we have had a split, a falling out between two groups, I would say, between the opposition and the current government, which actually acknowledges the needs of Bolivians, who are always the poorest out of all the countries. Since I am from the long-suffering class, [I support] Evo Morales. I know he knows what the needs of the Bolivian people are. It is really a shame in our country that the “rich” class, as they say, always wants to grab the baby bottle. They are the only ones that do well in life, they don’t let the long-suffering class rise.
It's not that I disagree with Evo, because there are things that convince me about his work, but I think that there are also things that aren’t handled well. What really bothers me is this revenge logic, this logic of “now it’s our turn”. I think that a president has to shake himself out, I mean his personal identity, or his identity of origin, without forgetting it, but taking on the role of a conciliator, managing to unite all the differences. I don’t want us all to be the same, because we’re all different, but we have to learn to respect those differences. And that means from above, from all sides, from below, from each individual.
I think that before we think about whether we’re with MAS or with the opposition, or from here or from there, we’re all people, and people forget that. And furthermore, we’re all animals, right? But we think we’re the king of natural creation, or who knows what, owners of the land to exploit it and use the resources. To use everything and to use the people too. We forget about respect and being part of something, of a complete world, a balanced world. So I think we also have to make some adjustments in the government, because it’s not a matter of taking turns, it’s a matter of wanting to improve everyone’s lives.
Written by Lily Whitesell
Many thanks to our distance volunteers Ana Carolina Romero, Kristin Bard, and Maren Hill for their help with transcription and translation!
Labels: Bolivian Constitution